Manhattan’s oldest house doesn’t come without some supernatural baggage. That’s been the experience of people who’ve come through Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights since the 1800s, and there’s a bona fide paranormal expert on staff who leads bimonthly tours to try to commune with them.
Vincent Carbone, public programs and events manager at Morris-Jumel and lifelong ghost hunter. He’s been involved in the science of paranormal phenomena since a young age — instead of shying away from his fear of the dark, he decided to find out what could be lurking in it.
“Ghost hunting has been a thing for hundreds of years, ever since mankind has started telling stories,” he says. In the era when paranormal activity first began to be reported at the mansion, “it was often considered a mark of prominence to have a ghost in your house. ‘I have a home so beautiful, they want to be there even when they’re dead!’”
Built by the Morris family in 1765, the house is now best known as the residence of notorious Vice President Aaron Burr, though he only lived there for eight months. His wife Eliza Jumel, however, lived in the home from 1810 until her death at age 90 in 1865, and is one of the specters who has been spotted there, most notoriously by a group of schoolchildren in 1964.
The students were playing on the grounds in front of the mansion when they said a woman came out onto the small balcony overlooking the entrance and yelled, “Shut up and go away!” Except when the caretaker arrived to let the children in, she told them the house was empty and locked. When the group arrived on the second floor, the kids pointed at the portrait of Eliza and said that’s the woman who’d yelled at them — 100 years after she’d died.
Visitors and employees of the mansion have reported various incidents over the years: fingernails clicking on a pot in Eliza’s room, doors in the basement opening and women laughing when there’s nobody downstairs, a heavy table being moved, items shifting on the mantle.
On the ghost hunts Carbone leads at the mansion, he uses equipment like an electromagnetic field detector (ghosts are believed to manipulate electricity), motion sensors and laser arrays to detect specters while leading the small group through a tour of the mansion. The most paranormal activity happens in Eliza’s and Aaron’s chambers, and the basement.
The energy of the house has proven useful in other ways. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote parts of Hamilton in Burr’s bedroom, and the newly published Morris-Jumel Mansion Anthology of Fantasy and Paranormal Fiction collects the work of 14 authors whose supernatural stories draw on the house’s history. Carbone, who has a background in theater, has also written a site-specific play that was staged at Morris-Jumel — Eliza’s ghost is especially fond of appearing during productions, as she was an actress.
His tours attract all kinds of people, but it’s the nonbelievers he likes best. “I love skeptics, because when everyone believes in ghosts, it kind of takes the fun out of it,” he says. “The people who already believe come in here and think anything can be a ghost. [Skeptics] keep me on my toes; they keep me honest.”
The next ghost hunting session takes place Feb. 11, 8-11 p.m. Morris-Jumel Mansion is located at 65 Jumel Terrace, Washington Heights. Tickets are $30, morrisjumel.org